Is it for real? How Vietnam and Mongolia kept their COVID-19 death toll at zero www.timesnownews.com
While Vietnam has a population of about 9.8 crore, Mongolia is a country of just 33 lakh people. But both Asian countries are a good case study of how to handle a health crisis with limited resources.
One of the puzzling aspects of COVID-19 is how some countries have seen their infection count and death toll soar while others have almost entirely escaped the worst effects of the pandemic.
Epidemiologists and other experts are struggling to find a neat theory that explains the exact reason why the pandemic behaves differently in different countries.
We have heard a lot about the South Korea model and how it managed to keep its mortality figures relatively low despite being among the first to report infections outside of mainland China.
Greece is another success story and it’s all the more credible as the country’s economy has major structural weaknesses and it is popular with tourists. In fact, many Greeks are wondering why the UK – a much richer country – has stumbled so badly in its coronavirus response.
While many theories are being propounded about how South Korea and Greece have handled the crisis well, perhaps less attention has been focussed on Vietnam and Mongolia – which have done very well in managing the pandemic though they are neither rich countries nor do they have particularly robust health care systems.
While Vietnam has reported 328 confirmed cases and zero deaths, Mongolia has reported 185 confirmed cases and no fatalities.
Vietnam and Mongolia are, of course, two very different countries and societies. While Vietnam has a population of 9.8 crore, Mongolia is a country of only 33 lakh people. Yet both Asian countries are a good case study of how to handle a crisis with limited resources.
Let’s take a closer look at how they took they took the pandemic head-on.
Early action: Vietnam did not wait for WHO guidelines to kick in. As soon as cases of the novel coronavirus were reported in China, Vietnam put in place a system of screening passengers coming from Wuhan (the Chinese city which was the origin and the first epicentre of the outbreak) for temperature. This was in the first half of January. Vietnam declared a “national pandemic” on February 1 though it had only six confirmed cases by then. The very next day all flights between China and Vietnam were suspended. By mid-February all schools and colleges were shut.
Rigorous contact tracing: All contacts of Vietnamese nationals coming home from abroad who tested positive were meticulously traced and placed under a strict 14-day quarantine. Contract tracing was a massive effort involving all levels of government and tens of thousands of health workers. Even indirect contacts were traced.
Communication: The Vietnamese government went all out in taking the message to the people – by all possible mediums including TV, radio, newspapers, internet and mobile phones. A pop song promoted by the government that endorsed hand-washing went viral
Pre-emptive measures: After the WHO recommended on January 22 that countries should begin considering measures to contain coronavirus, Mongolia got into action and put its State Emergency Commission along with health ministry in dual charge of the response to the outbreak. Remarkably, the closing of schools started as early as January 25.
Strong steps in February: While most of the world was going on with business as usual in February – thinking that the upheaval caused in Wuhan was too remote from their shores – Mongolia cancelled its national holiday Tsagaan Sar, banned all travel between capital Ulaanbaatar and other provinces, stopped all international travel and closed its borders with its two large neighbours Russia and China.
Best practices: The steps which the WHO has repeatedly stressed on – wearing masks, washing hands and contact tracing -- were adopted enthusiastically in Mongolia, and early in the outbreak.
The views expressed by the author are personal and do not in any way represent those of Times Network.